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Organizing Your ‘Ship Shop’

Order and efficiency make packing and shipping a breeze.

After an auction listing has ended or one of your fixed-price offerings has sold, do you then find yourself scurrying to ship the goods? If your sales result in repeated hunting for the packing supplies you’ll need to get the goods safely into your customers’ hands, it’s time to add some order and efficiency to your post-sale packing process.

Although some sellers dread the whole packing process, scrambling for needed shipping supplies, you can easily tame this step in your business operation. Save yourself all the rummaging and scrounging by setting up your own well-organized and well-stocked “ship shop.”

It’s easy to do and, when you do, you’ll add some whistle to this part of your work. Here’s how:

It begins with location

Most sellers look right past this key ingredient—the place where they’ll set up and conduct their packing and shipping process. You needn’t commandeer an entire room in your place of business, assuming you’re working from your place of residence. All you really need is about 30 square feet (maybe a 6-by-5-foot corner) that you can claim as you permanent ship shop. Choose a clean, well lit environment that is dry, reasonably dust free and generally free from excessive foot traffic.

Once you’ve claimed your space, consider how you’ll set up your shipping layout and process. Before you get too far along, consider visiting any local shipping store near you to see how the pros do it. Notice their efficiency of space and how they utilize vertical space to do more in a small area. That said, as you prepare to set up your process, consider these key attributes:

    A good ship shop fosters a repeatable packing routine that saves you time and effort

  • A good ship shop lends itself to easy “staging” of items. That is, it has space to place items ready for shipment that will then flow along into the wrapping, boxing, filling and sealing of a package (like a sort of conveyor system).

  • A good ship shop features a sizable flat work area, such a large table or workbench. If you feel you might be a bit cramped in the space you’ve chosen, consider a collapsible table you can easily fold and store out of the way when you’re not packing items.

  • A good ship shop provides easy access to all necessary shipping supplies. Again, think “vertical,” with supplies and other materials both above and below the surface where you’ll be working.

  • Most important, a good ship shop ultimately fosters a repeatable packing routine that saves you time and effort. If you can avoid having to drag out all supplies from all corners of where you’re working, you’ll save valuable set-up and break-down time.

Choosing the right stuff

You have the space, now you need the supplies. Here are the goods that every well-stocked ship shop should have readily at hand:

  • Boxes: These days, package carriers such as USPS, UPS and FedEx offer shipping boxes of all sizes, some designed for specific items (e.g., video boxes, cardboard tubes, and various square or rectangular configurations). These are incredibly sturdy and can be stored flat, making it easy to store them efficiently under or adjacent to your work surface.

  • Bubble pack: Protect the items you’ll ship by wrapping them in bubble pack. These are often manufactured in perforated tear-off sheets, sold on a roll. Depending upon your specific needs, you can store this as a roll (suspended by a spindle above where you’ll be working) or you can tear them into a handy stack of individual sheets.

  • Box fill: Also known as “packing peanuts” or Eco Foam, this is the best lightweight material to use for cushioning your items inside their shipping boxes. Store this in a large, refillable carton, or in heavy-duty leaf bags. Some folks hang bags of this from the ceiling and dispense it from a re-closable “spout,” just like the commercial shipping stores.

  • Tape: You can never seem to have enough packing tape. Use the wide clear tape for best results, usually available in bulk quantities from packing supply or even big-box membership stores. Store one or two rolls on a nearby peg hook and keep backup rolls in a drawer.

  • The best news is that most of the supplies mentioned here are free for the asking
  • Backing board and stiffener: Small sheets of cardboard (either corrugated or chipboard) will provide sturdy reinforcement for flat items. Store these sheets in a suitable-sized box or in a nearby drawer.

  • Envelopes: Have a good variety of these in a nearby drawer or box, too, ranging from standard business envelopes up to 9-by-12-inch manila envelopes. Padded envelopes are also useful but they are costly; consider a larger manila envelope with the contents reinforced with backing board and a sheet of bubble pack.

  • Mailing labels: Use adhesive-backed labels to save on taping duty. USPS will provide these with your return address pre-printed, too. Store these in a drawer.

  • Packing tools: Whether in a drawer or on a peg hook, be sure you have waterproof marking pens, a utility knife, scissors and sheets of 8.5-inch by 11-inch white paper (for notes to include with your items) readily at hand.

Getting the goods, good and cheap

The best news is that most of the supplies just mentioned are free for the asking. Most prevalent is the USPS in its generous supply of boxes, envelopes, labels and more. These free supplies, of course, are for customers who utilize Priority Mail and Express Mail services. With only a few exceptions, you can acquire the majority of shipping supplies you need from the USPS alone.

Equally, UPS and FedEx also provide a nice variety of free shipping supplies for their customers. Then, there’s always the office-supply and retail stores that may have boxes free for the taking. And, don’t overlook the inherent reusability of supplies like box fill, bubble wrap and backing boards. Take care when reusing boxes; however, to be sure any box you’ll recycle hasn’t been weakened by previous uses.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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